Some Old Devon Churches

By J. Stabb

London: Simpkin et al (1908-16)

Page 58

Transcribed and edited by Dr Roger Peters

Full text available at


Prepared by Michael Steer

Between 1908 and 1916, John Stabb, an ecclesiologist and photographer who lived in Torquay, published three volumes of Some Old Devon Churches and one of Devon Church Antiquities. A projected second volume of the latter, regarded by Stabb himself as a complement to the former, did not materialize because of his untimely death on August 2nd 1917, aged 52. Collectively, Stabb's four volumes present descriptions of 261 Devon churches and their antiquities.

CHULMLEIGH. St. Mary Magdalene. This is an old collegiate church, with originally seven (afterwards five) prebends attached to it. The church consists of chancel, nave, north and south aisles, north and south porches, and embattled western tower with clock and six bells. On the tympanum of the south door is an interesting Norman carving, supposed to represent the Crucifixion [plate 58a].

The rood screen is very fine [plate 58b], and extends across the church; it dates from the 16th century, and retains its doors, groining and cornices, but the cresting is missing. In many of its details [plate 58c] this screen resembles that at Kentisbere. The rise of the vaulting is higher than usual, the lower panels resemble those at Lapford.

The pillars and arches of the nave, and portions of the south wall belong to the Perpendicular style, but the rest of the church has been rebuilt in comparitively modern times. The waggon roof has good bosses and terminals of angels. Pulpit and font are both modern.

There is a curious story in reference to the seven prebends originally attached to this church. In the reign of Henry III [1216-1272], Isabella de Fortibus [1236-1293], Countess of Devon, lived at the Castle of Stone. At this time there was a poor man of Chulmleigh who was like the old women who lived in a shoe; he had so many children he did not know what to do, so he left home, wife and children, and remained absent for seven years. Twelve months after his return his wife, to show her joy at having him home again, presented him with seven sons at a birth. This fact the man and his wife kept secret, and being utterly unable to provide for so large a family, they decided to deposit the seven babies in the Little Dart. On his way to the river the man was met by the Countess of Devon, who asked him what he carried in his basket. "Whelps," said he. The Countess wished to see them; the man said they were not worth seeing; the Countess insisting, the man fell on his knees and confessed his purpose. The Countess, who was of charitable disposition, called her servants to carry home the seven children, had them educated, and when they were grown to man's estate, settled on each a prebend, a certain annual support from her estates in the Parish of Chulmleigh.

The registers date from 1653.